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Level Access Podcast: Introduction to Screen Readers, Part 1 (JAWS), with guest Roy Nicholson (Episode #002)

Written by: Meaghan Roper

Welcome to episode 2 of the Level Access podcast. Today’s topic is Introduction to Screen Readers, part 1 (JAWS) with guest Roy Nicholson.

About the Podcast & your Host

COVID-19 has changed our everyday lives and made web accessibility more important than ever before. Still, for many developers and web designers, accessibility is a new and somewhat intimidating concept.

I’m Meaghan Roper, and I’m a Business Analyst at Level Access. I’m also blind and use screen reading software on my laptop and iPhone. I wanted to find a way to make accessibility concepts understandable to those who may be new or inexperienced. There are tons of technical documents on the web about accessibility, but those can be scary to dive into when you’re new!

I decided that casual language and conversation was the most approachable way to introduce an audience to accessible web content and assistive technology. That is how this blog/podcast series was born.

I’m excited to share the conversations I’ve had with accessibility industry experts and I hope that these podcast episodes help you gain a better understanding of web accessibility.

Episode 2: Introduction to Screen Readers, Part 1 (JAWS)

In episode 2, we’re jumping right into one of the most popular—and simultaneously daunting—assistive technologies on the market, screen readers.

Let’s start with a fun historical fact!

The first screen reader was created at IBM in the 1980s by Jim Thatcher. It wasn’t trademarked since it was designed for internal use by low-vision employees at IBM. Also, the term “screen reader” wasn’t copyrighted, so it became the general term for text-to-speech software in the tech industry.

What is a screen reader and who uses them?

A screen reader is a software program that takes visual and textual information on screen and makes it available in auditory format. It does this by interacting with the visual and textual content at a code level. (More on this and why it’s important is in the episode!)

The majority of screen reader users are blind or have low vision, but those aren’t the only people who can benefit from this assistive technology. Screen readers can also be useful for people with disabilities like dyslexia, dysgraphia, and computer vision syndrome, among others. Anyone who finds it useful to hear information read out loud can benefit from using a screen reader.

When on a desktop or laptop computer, screen reader users navigate the web by using a combination of keyboard commands and shortcuts to explore websites and execute daily tasks like reading emails, shopping online, and posting on social media.

If you’ve never heard a native screen reader user navigating the web, it’s definitely ear-opening! (Is that even a thing?) In this episode, I sat down with my colleague and expert screen reader user Roy Nicholson. We talked about screen readers in general and specifically, the most popular screen reading software on the market, JAWS (Job Access With Speech).

As an expert user for more than two decades, Roy knows his stuff when it comes to using JAWS. During our conversation, Roy walked me through some of his most-used keyboard commands, explained the differences between Windows shortcuts and screen reader shortcuts, and even talked through some of the differences between desktop screen readers and mobile screen readers. (We will dive more deeply into smartphone and tablet screen readers like VoiceOver and TalkBack in a future episode.) Roy also told us his preference for interacting with the web with desktop versus mobile and explained what it sounds like to him when a website is very accessible, and when it’s not so accessible.

Listen to Episode #002 here and read the transcript here.